My Opinion on Harvard’s Initial Sun-Dimming Experiments

The device Harvard plans to use to study the effect of small particles in the upper atmosphere (Click for source)

A reader sent me this article and asked for my comments on it. For some reason, the experiment that is discussed therein escaped my attention, but I read a more detailed discussion of it and found it to be quite intriguing. Essentially, a team of Harvard scientists wants to know if they can block some of the sun’s light so as to counter the effects of global warming, aka climate change. They want to do it by releasing a fine powder of calcium carbonate (chalk) high in the atmosphere. The tiny particles will eventually fall to the ground, but while they are in the air, they will reflect some of the sun’s light so that it never reaches the surface of the earth. That way, it doesn’t have a chance to participate in the greenhouse effect.

If you have been reading this blog for long, you know that I am very skeptical of the idea that global warming (aka climate change) is a serious problem. We don’t know what portion of it is caused by human activities, and we have no idea how much danger it poses. Unfortunately, politics has poisoned the science surrounding it. As one of the most accomplished climate scientists of our time says, much of what passes as climate science these days is shoddy specifically because of the influence of politics.

Nevertheless, it is certainly possible that global warming (aka climate change) might have serious long-term consequences. As a result, we should look for ways to mitigate the effects, if we eventually find that there will be some. We know the result of cutting carbon dioxide emissions with current technology: people will die. That’s because reducing emissions with the technology we have now makes energy more expensive, and the more expensive energy is, the more people die. (see here and here). Thus, we should examine other methods that might mitigate global warming with a lower body count. That’s what this Harvard experiment is all about.

Are there risks associated with it? Initially, no, because the first experiment, planned for June of this year, would only test the hardware (pictured above). It wouldn’t actually release any powder. If that goes well, the scientists plan a small-scale test that would release no more than 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of the powder. That’s not enough calcium carbonate to produce any negative effects. However, it will allow the scientists to study how the calcium carbonate behaves and whether or not the computer simulations of its behavior are correct.

Of course, the issue is what happens next. In order to change the earth’s greenhouse effect in any significant way, there would have to be a lot more calcium carbonate released, and it would have to be released on a semi-regular basis. That could definitely produce serious, long-term consequences. Nevertheless, there is no way to realistically know what those consequences might be unless the initial tests are performed. Thus, this experiment seems reasonable, at least in the initial stages that have been proposed. It will simply be a way of judging the safety and efficacy of the process. The results won’t be definitive, but they can at least guide the scientists in their future plans.

Here’s the bottom line: We know that all currently-planned attempts to slow global warming (aka climate change) will result in people dying. This new approach might result in that as well, but we don’t know. If experiments like the ones planned by Harvard proceed, at least we can have some data that will allow us to see if this method has a lower body count than the currently-proposed methods. It seems to me that’s something worth learning.

6 thoughts on “My Opinion on Harvard’s Initial Sun-Dimming Experiments”

  1. Good morning Dr. Wile.
    Intriguing article on Harvard’s proposed experiment to “fix” global warming. I have been following this argument since Al Gore’s claim to be the global warming czar with his co-authored book, An Inconvenient Truth. When I read that, I was immediately skeptical and remain so. It is hard to keep an open mind in all of this, with so much dishonesty pandered as science.
    My firm conviction (with all the baggage personal convictions bring) is that God as the creator put into motion a marvelous, balanced system that is able to compensate for anything in nature or that mankind can do to try and upset this balance. A good example of this was Krakatoa’s eruption and the 5-year global cooling it caused in the aftermath. The system righted itself in time. Sure, our carbon emissions may be throwing the balance off a bit but to me it is arrogant to believe that human invention (God would have known every thing we would do in eternity past) or counter-invention (like turning off electricity-producing technology and killing the poor) could ultimately throw God a curve ball He did not account for. There is a stewardship responsibility to this argument that would run us down a rabbit trail I’m going to avoid.
    So, this brings me to the planned Harvard experiment, as altruistic as it sounds. Upon reading this I became greatly worried that scientists, in their attempt to right a supposed wrong would try to jury-rig the atmosphere, thereby further upsetting the balance God set into motion. Until now we have not really messed with the atmosphere other than trying to seed clouds to make rain (there are probably others I’m not aware of). It is one thing to send a piece of dispersal machinery into the atmosphere to see how it performs, but it is quite another to start introducing a foreign chemical into it. If their next phase of testing is to dump 2 kg of CaCO3 without first trying a “pinch” of it, that seems irresponsible to me. Why can’t we try and find out what might happen to just a little of this CaCO3? What is its life-cycle? Will it disassociate? Will it chemically combine with something up there? What if this supposedly harmless chemical in large quantities (enough to cover the globe) altered the radiation levels seeping through the atmosphere? There are probably many more questions I don’t even know enough to ask that should be. I’m worried Dr. Wile. Blessings to you for keeping us informed.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Jim. I certainly agree that the earth is a designed system that has safeguards built into it. Thus, I don’t think global warming (aka climate change) will ever be dangerous.

      The actual plans call for somewhere between 100g and 2 kg, based on the results of their dry run. However, even 2 kg is really just a “pinch” of calcium carbonate. Remember that calcium carbonate is the main component of limestone, and it is the main component of sea shells. Thus, there is already a lot of it around. In fact, it is estimated that 4% of the earth’s crust is calcium carbonate. 2 kg is insignificant compared to what’s around naturally. Another way to look at it is the the earth’s atmosphere has a mass of about 5×1018 kg, so the maximum mass of calcium carbonate that will be released is 0.00000000000000004% of the atmosphere’s mass.

      The point is that they need to release enough so that they can actually get good data on how it behaves. If they release too little, they won’t be able to analyze it well enough to know what it will do in larger quantities.

  2. Sigh, when will they use science, not wishful thinking? No CO2, no plants. More CO2, more is stored underground to become humus. A S. Dakota farmer took his father-in-law’s farm from 2% average carbon to 11% in some fields using only cover crops and cattle. If CO2 were such a villain, why do greenhouse operators need to buy it? Methane, as well, is food for a number of beneficial fungi and bacteria, which convert it to nitrogen and CO2. Science works, but only in the hands of scientists, not political appointees. God’s grace be on you.

  3. I’ve been going to different websites about this climate change issue. I can’t say that I agree with this, but they say that carbon is the key to life. That might be true, but isn’t carbon dioxide different than natural carbon? Their theory is as the earth warms up, it allows for more life to flourish. One article mentioned that if the PPM gets too low, plants will no longer be able function properly and photosynthesis will cease. Blocking out the sun might seem like a good idea on paper, but what about cities and homes that have converted over to solar panels. Who knows if the calcium carbonate could potentially make storms stronger. If we do see stronger storms, the culprit will be climate change

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